Deion Sanders will not return to the Dallas Cowboys until September, and even that may be a bit optimistic, team owner Jerry Jones said yesterday.

"I know we won't see him in a preseason game," Jones said.

Sanders is in training camp in Wichita Falls, Tex., but not practicing with the team as he rehabilitates his left big toe. He underwent surgery to fix an extreme case of turf toe in April. Jones also noted that if Sanders sits for all of September, he would miss only two games because Dallas has an early bye week. The Cowboys' third game is Oct. 3 against division rival Arizona in Texas Stadium. "If Deion misses only two ballgames, then we've hit a home run," Jones said.

Sanders's injury kept him out of five games last year and limited him in two others. The Cowboys were 8-3 in games he played and 2-3 without him. He returned for the first-round playoff loss to the Cardinals and played in the Pro Bowl, but was still in pain two months later and opted for surgery.

VIKINGS: Rookie Dmitrius Underwood skipped out on the team to attend to a "family matter" and will return to training camp today. His agent, Craig Domann, declined to go into specifics about the family matter or Underwood's whereabouts. Underwood, a first-round draft pick, inexplicably disappeared from training camp Monday.

Underwood, a 6-foot-6, 276-pound defensive end from Michigan State, was the 29th selection in the NFL draft. He signed a five-year contract Sunday for more than $5 million, including a partially deferred signing bonus of $1.75 million.

PATRIOTS: Former Redskins defensive end Sterling Palmer is attempting a comeback after being out of football since midway through the 1996 season. He's hoping a surgically repaired ligament in his left knee will withstand the strain so he can resume a career that once looked promising with the Redskins. Palmer, 28, was the Redskins' fourth-round draft pick, 101st overall, in 1993. He started 39 games over his first three seasons when he had 10 sacks and 192 tackles, and he led the Redskins in tackles in 1994 with 90. But he missed the last three games of the 1995 season with a knee injury, then blew out his left knee six games into the 1996 season.

FALCONS: A personal plea from Coach Dan Reeves wasn't enough to end Jamal Anderson's holdout. Reeves reached Anderson by telephone Saturday at his home in Salt Lake City, where the Pro Bowl running back has remained during the first week of training camp while haggling with the team over a new contract. Anderson, set to make $2.6 million in the final year of his deal, is seeking a five-year contract with an $8 million signing bonus. The Falcons have offered a $7 million bonus and at least $1 million less in guaranteed money over the life of the contract.

DOLPHINS: Tyrone Wheatley, a former first-round pick of the Giants who was acquired for a seventh-round draft pick, was cut.

RAIDERS: Free agent fullback Zack Crockett will be out four to six weeks because of a broken foot.